Monthly Archives: January 2017

Betsy DeVos’s Institutional Racism Problem

As you have no doubt heard, the State School Reform Office of Michigan has released the names of the 38 schools that are slated for possible closure. These are schools that have been determined to be among the “lowest performing” schools in the state as measured by “achievement data” for the past 3 years. These are schools that Betsy DeVos, soon to be cleared as Secretary of Education, calls “failing.”

I call B.S.

And, more importantly, I call institutional racism.

Let’s be clear and name this- Betsy DeVos is a huge proponent of institutional racism.

How do you spot institutional racism? It’s pretty easy.

First, here is what you don’t do. You don’t go looking for individual racists. I honestly don’t know DeVos’s personal ideas on race. I am certainly not naming her as a racist. Her intentions are beyond by my ability to determine. More so I don’t see her personal intentions as particularly relevant. (The same goes for Attorney General nominee Jeff Sessions. Who cares if those who know him claim he’s a nice guy? See below.)

What is relevant are the effects and outcomes of the policies that she supports. These are very, very easy to determine. And they clearly support institutionalized racism.

It goes without question that DeVos has supported the narrative of “failing schools” and that she has funded it. In the state of Michigan this has led to a number of weird policies (the ability of the SRO to close schools being only one) that have become institutionalized through the financial backing and political influence of DeVos. (As an excellent example of how DeVos exerts pressure, see here.)

So let’s dig a little deeper.

What do these 38 schools on the SRO closing list have in common? They are in areas of high concentrations of poverty, and high populations of African American students. This is called a “disproportional outcome,” one that has a disproportionate effect on a particular group of people. In this case, we are talking about poor Black communities. Poor Black communities are having their schools taken from them. Poor Black communities are having their schools being named as failures, which allows us to avoid considering the racialized economic conditions that actually led to these communities having high concentrations of Black students who also tend to be struggling with poverty. Schools are being named as failures while hiding the fact that those in power have failed those communities. 

It is shameful.

And it is, by definition, institutionalized racism.

Maybe we should ask, does closing schools work?

The answer is yes if your goal is to continue to steal resources from those most in need of them.

The answer is no if you are hoping to support these communities.

Hell no.

Not even close.

As an example, Muskegon Heights public school district was completely charterized as a result of the having been overtaken by emergency management in 2012. The whole district was given to a private company to run as a charter district. In 2014, that company left in the middle of the school year because the profit wasn’t what projections hoped for. It remains charterized.

And it is now is on the closure list.

Oh well.

Muskegon Heights district is 95.6% Black with a poverty rate of 61.7%. Hmm…

Let’s check the race and poverty demographics of Benton Harbor, with 3 schools on the list: Poverty = 54.9% and it has a population that is 89.2% Black.

Detroit, with 24 schools on the school closure list? The poverty rate is 39%, and its racial make up is 81.6% Black. (Mind you, for comparison, the state of Michigan’s poverty rate is about 17%.)

Need I continue? I invite you to check out the race and poverty demographics of Pontiac, whose only high school left is on the list. Same goes for Saginaw. It’s easy to find. Google works. Tell me if I’m wrong.

So what are measuring when measure for “failing schools”? We are measuring, very accurately, the conditions of poverty and the racialized concentrations of Black communities.

In acting on these measures via harmful policies, we are replicating and reifying institutional racism.

Thank you Betsy.

Cutting Our (Financial) Losses in the Public Realm: Running Schools Like a Business

Well, it’s beginning.

Well, actually, it had already begun.

So it continues.

And the pace of it just might be picking up.

School closings that is.

Detroit Public Schools Community District has just announced that it will be closing Durfee Middle School.

If you follow Michigan’s education scene, you know that the State School Reform Office (tellingly located under the Michigan Department of Technology/Management and Budget department rather than the Department of Education- it’s complicated) is looking to close schools that perform in the lowest 5% across the state for 3 consecutive years. (You also know that over 100 public schools have closed in Detroit since 2005.) The Detroit Free Press explains,“More than 120 schools were on the state’s 2015 list of Michigan’s bottom 5% of schools, including 47 schools in the Detroit district. Durfee has been on the list since 2014.

The 2016 bottom 5% list — and an announcement about school closures or reforms — is expected to be publicly released within weeks. The Michigan Department of Education compiles the bottom 5% list based on state test data. Officials warned in August that some schools that have been on the list for three consecutive years could be shut down.”

I’ve previously addressed this cruel nonsense of determining the success or failure of a school by using “achievement data.” (See herehere and here.) However, in order to establish some context it is worth repeating Paul Gorksi’s incisive criticism of “deficit ideology” as the means through we view “school failure.” Gorski writes, “The function of deficit ideology…is to justify existing social conditions by identifying the problem of inequality as located within, rather than as pressing upon, disenfranchised communities so that efforts to redress inequalities focus on ‘fixing’ disenfranchised people rather than the conditions which disenfranchise them.”

In short, closing schools hides and replicates conditions of inequity.

I wish our State School Reform Office understood that.

Now, to be fair, John Walsh, Director of Public Strategy, points out that the state is not requiring Durfee to close. Instead, it is the newly named (it’s complicated ) Detroit Public Schools Community District  that has made this decision. Walsh states, “We are working with (the district) on the Durfee matter…It was their decision. We believe it was a good one. They came to it on their own.” (emphasis added)

But, to be fair, the district certainly did not come to this decision on their own.

As a school that has been on the lowest 5% list since 2014, Durfee has been in the sights of the State School Reform Office. The former Detroit Public School’s former so-called “Transition Manager” (not Emergency Manager- it’s complicated) made this clear. Steven Rhodes said he was, “…grateful for the administration’s agreement that our planned closing of Durfee Elementary-Middle School in June 2017 to consolidate it with Central High School for the fall of 2017 will resolve our (School Reform Office) issues for this school year. …

We are pleased that this resolution will obviate the need for litigation, which would have been distracting, expensive and of uncertain result for everyone.”

So DPSCD made this decision in order to “resolve” the SSRO “issues.” And, of course, now there is not need for litigation. (“Obviate,” as used by Rhodes, means to “render unneccessary.” See how he did that?)

So much for that “they made the decision on their own” thing.

And in this day and age when schools are expected to be run like a business, DPSCD seems to have made a wonderful business decision. First of all, they save on the cost of future litigation. And now, you see, the former space used by Durfee Middle Schools students and staff, space that was run at a huge net loss of potential profit due to lack of income, maintenance costs, and the cost of labor, is not being leased out to the tune of $1 a year! That’s a tremendous net difference between past loss and current savings, and will most certainly decrease the cost of running an actual, publicly funded educational facility. A bonus? “Entrepreneurs will be able to guest lecture in the classrooms.”

Right in line with the task of schools.


education-is-a-process1Let me be clear. Detroit schools are under the gun.It’s not their fault- they are trying to survive.

At fault are the policies of cruelty of the state of Michigan, beginning with the fundamental assumption that “achievement data” can serve as a means of economic exchange. Educational “value” can be determined via test scores, and thus commodified in the “educational marketplace.”

In addressing this market, Diane Ravtich once wrote, (quoting a Fareed Zakaria interview)

“‘…in a global economy, capital always seeks to lower costs. In a competitive marketplace, if you can’t cut costs, you go out of business. The name of the game is who can cut costs the most.’

What does this mean in an education marketplace? The school that can lower its costs the most wins. How do you lower costs? You increase class size and/or hire the least experienced, low-cost teachers.”

Even better?

Close the school.

This is the logical end of the neoliberal commodification of everything.

Kids and community be damned.

Image from Student Coalition for Educational Justice